How do you repair 20-year-old ponds? What lies at the bottom? The learning team at London Wetland Centre found out the wet way when they embarked on a major project to reline the three dipping ponds at the Pond Zone. Serving around 10,000 children every year, the dipping ponds are the most popular education facility at the centre. The learning team runs regular pond dipping sessions for schools and families, providing them with nets, trays, magnifying glasses and identification cards. Children can get up and close with a plethora of plants and animals, from water lilies and millions of tiny water fleas to great diving beetles and smooth newts. However, the three ponds have been here since the centre was built at the turn of the century. Two decades later, the liners have degraded and parts of the ponds have been taken over by plants. It was high time to refresh them. Ponds 1 and 2 were dug out and relined in the winters of 2018/19 and 2019/20, respectively, but work on the remaining pond was delayed by the pandemic until last winter. Aided by volunteers, the team bailed out water by hand, dug through the sedge and mud, and removed the old liner just before Christmas. “It was a lot of fun. We got very messy and we made a number of exciting discoveries in the process,” said Paul Lawston, learning manager. His team found lurking in the sedge an ancient net, as well as a crisp packet from the year 2000. Also, a large number of the Pond Zone newts were found to be hibernating under the liner. The net and crisp packet were disposed of; the newts were relocated to a neighbouring refugium. The pond has now been relined and filled with water. The team will introduce some rocks and plants over the next few weeks. After that, nature will take over.“They colonise very quickly. The pond is completely barren now, but they will come back to life in a month or two,” said Paul. Fly larvae and water beetles will be among the first to come. As the year progress, expect damselflies, fish and snails to move in. While the ponds at the London Wetland Centre are designed primarily for education purpose, introducing a pond to your surrounding is one of the best ways to support wildlife. Even if you only have a balcony, you can create a mini pond from a container by following WWT’s step-by-step guide here. No matter how small, a pond will attract wildlife if it’s in a good condition. “They provide a wetland-like space in urban areas—little oases for animals to live in,” said Paul. “Something as small as a bucket on a balcony will colonise quickly.” Meanwhile, the ponds at the London Wetland Centre will be ready for visitors in April. For more information on when pond-dipping sessions are on, visit our What's On Page.
Local resident Rowan Hooper has been coming to London Wetland Centre for over 15 years. He is a senior editor at New Scientist magazine and host of the magazine’s award-winning weekly podcast. With a PhD in evolutionary biology and several books under his belt, Rowan views the wetland with the lens of a scientist and a science communicator. We spoke to Rowan about his experience at London Wetland Centre and his advice for visitors. Q: As a journalist and an author, you have written extensively about various efforts to protect biodiversity and avoid catastrophic climate change. What roles do wetlands play? A: Wetlands are absolutely vital! They are doubly valuable as they are both rich reservoirs of biodiversity and stores of carbon. I think the role of wetlands is sometimes overlooked in the focus on tree-planting and forests. That is vital too of course, but wetlands play an essential role in the planetary system and protecting and restoring them is absolutely key to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. I talk about their value in my latest book, How to Spend a Trillion Dollars, which is about solving the biggest problems that the world faces.Q: Before your career in journalism, you gained a PhD in evolutionary biology and worked in a conservation biology lab in Japan. How did you get involved in the field of biology?A: I’ve always loved anything to do with the natural world. I’ve heard many biologists say they were inspired by watching David Attenborough shows as a kid and the same is true for me. I became concerned about environmental problems when I was at school (though how small those problems look now) and combined my love of nature and growing concerns by doing a degree in ecology. Then I just wanted to continue learning about biology and evolution and had the realisation that you could actually do this as a job, and that’s why I did my PhD and carried on learning.Q: You've been coming to London Wetland Centre for 15 years. What do you remember about your first visit?A: I can just about remember when the announcement went out that the old reservoirs in Barnes were being turned into a wetland centre, but I’ve been so much I can barely remember the first time. Thinking back I can just remember that sense of peace and quiet that you still get in the hides around the site. I remember seeing sand martins on one of my early visits too and that made an impression.Q: London Wetland Centre is home to many threatened or vulnerable wildlife, such as Hawaiian geese, white-headed ducks and Asian small-clawed otters. Tell us about a memorable encounter with an animal here.A: Three that jump out are: a kingfisher hunting in a pond on the Wildside; a peregrine terrorising the lapwings and other water birds into a mass take-off and evacuation; a wonderful view of a booming bittern in the reeds.Q: The hides are the hidden gems of London Wetland Centre. It's where you can sit in peace and watch the wildlife unfold before you, but not all visitors know about them. Do you have a favourite hide? A: I usually head to the hide on the Wildside as it’s the furthest away and feels the most wild.Q: As a wetland veteran, what are your tips to get the most out of the facilities? What are your favourite spots? A: Take your time; go slow. I am by no means an expert birder and often ask the hard-core ornithologists what they are watching and they are always happy to chat and give advice. Enjoy the small things. There might not be any rare or dramatic birds around when you visit, but there are so many other lovely things. I saw a bee orchid recently, with the most amazing bee mimicry. The swish of the wind in the reeds. A rosette of feathers plucked by a sparrowhawk. The flit of a dragonfly. The wetlands are just a lovely place to soak up nature.Listening Rowan Hooper weekly podcast via the link belowhttps://www.newscientist.com/podcasts/
World Wetlands Day 2022 We need to love, cherish and restore our amazing, natural wetlands.This February 2 sees the 25th World Wetlands Day. The day provides a crucial reminder that our wetlands are sadly disappearing three times faster than our rainforests, and our planet’s biodiversity is in steady decline. Please join us in raising awareness of this ecological plight, and help us stop its progression. From the mangroves of Bangladesh, to the floodplains of Bolivia and everywhere in between, the wetlands provide an essential habitat for 1,000s of wildlife species. But frightenedly, this natural environment has continued to decline over the centuries. In fact, in the years between 1970 – 2015 alone, we have lost 35% of our global wetlands. This not only upsets a valuable ecosystem, but is instrumental in raising carbon and methane emissions, making a significant contribution towards global warming. It means that water becomes scarcer, food is harder to grow, and exposure to flooding and extreme weather events increase. In a huge city such as London, an urban wetland is especially important. Its role in creating a healthier environment shouldn’t be taken for granted. It eases the threat of flooding, helps to slow down climate change, and provides a habitat for wildlife to thrive and grow.At The London Wetland Centre, you can even encounter some of the more vulnerable and endangered wildlife, such as Hawaiian geese, White-headed ducks, and Asian small-clawed otters.If you would like to support this important cause and learn more about biodiverse habitats and the animal species that live here, the London Wetland Centre would be a truly amazing place to visit. With so much of our planet’s natural resources being depleted, and so many of our animal species being so close to extinction, we are running out of time. Our organisation relies on people becoming involved and getting behind our valuable work. Come and explore the natural wetland, meet the wildlife, and learn about our mission to preserve the urban wetlands. We can’t do any of it without your support.
The effective management of wetlands can provide alternative or complementary habitats for waterbirds and mitigate the adverse effects of wetland loss and degradation. Winter is the busiest time of year for our reserve team as they prepare the whole of site for the upcoming breeding season. Our reserve team is coppicing and pollarding with our fantastic team of volunteers. This work improves the wetlands habitat quality for the birds that choose our site for breeding. Cutting small areas of the woodland or hedgerow creates new open areas or glades, and due to the extra light level this will stimulate ground cover below. This results in other plants flourishing such as grasses and wildflowers. Within woodlands and hedgerows, butterfly caterpillars can feed on the wildflowers and grasses that have been stimulated to grow due to the coppicing and pollarding, and so the number of individuals or species of butterfly can increase. The regrowth can create a micro-climate and diversifying plant life that creates cover for a host of wildlife such as insect life. This in turn provides food for small mammals and birds. Birds such as blackbirds, robins and wrens will nest in the dense regrowth, and the older trees provide the perfect conditions for nesting. When the low vegetation starts becoming dense below the tree, this helps to attract species such common whitethroat, blackcap and chiffchaff - regular visitors will know these birds can often be seen during the summer months flitting around our reserve paths! Overall, the practice of wetland management requires integrated knowledge related to the wetland ecosystem and considering diverse habitat requirements for different waterbirds. In other words, many species will benefit for those improved habitats.
Wetlands provide a habitat for a huge diversity of animals and plants, many of which are found nowhere else. In fact, species diversity in wetlands is so great, there are a fair few species that many people have never heard of. Here are eight examples of under-the-radar critters often found in Britain’s wetlands. Eels:Although not obvious, eels are a type of fish.Their life cycle is, what the kids would describe as, epic! Eels start their lives in the Sargasso Sea, out in the Atlantic. These baby eels (Called Leptocephali) use ocean currents to migrate 4,000 miles back to Europe. They then make their way up rivers, changing as they go to become elvers and then adult eels which spend up to 20 years in our rivers feeding and growing. Once large enough they make their final transformation into silver eels which are able to swim back out to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and start the cycle again.That complex life cycle is quite prone to threats like climate change, habitat destruction and pollution etc, so the European eel is now a critically endangered speciesGreat Raft SpiderA spider that can literally walk on water! They catch prey close to the surface and use special hairs on their legs to detect movement in the water.Very rare in the UK, they are only known at a handful of sites around the countryLeechLeeches are close relatives of earthwormsMany leeches drink blood but there are also a lot of species that hunt and swallow smaller prey, known as “Swallowing leeches.”When they suck blood they inject a chemical called hirudin into it to stop it from clotting. This chemical has been used by humans to create medicines. Leeches were also used in medieval times for treating illnesses but this was down to a belief in the power of bleeding patients to rid them of disease.Medicinal Leeches are very rare in the UK now – they would traditionally lurk in village ponds and bite the feet of horses being brought to water to drink. Since people stopped using horses for transport and village ponds have been filled in, their habitats have shrunk.Pond SkaterAnother creature that hunts on the surface tension, using its short front legs to detect the struggles of its prey and its four longer back legs to skate out and catch it.The legs have special waterproof hairs on them that help stop them falling through the surface tension. Scientists still can’t work out how they’re able to push themselves forward.They’re a type of bug so they feed with their tube-shaped mouth by sucking out the insides of their prey. They inject it with a chemical that turns its body into soup first!Ramshorn SnailHave a simple lung inside the shell so need to come to the surface to take in air to breathe.They have red blood, very unusually for snails.Their shell is the same shape as an ammonite’s, but they belong to a very different group of molluscs – snails are gastropods, but ammonites were cephalopods, the group that contains octopuses and squid.Water BoatmanTwo types – greater water boatman, which swims on its back (So also known as a backswimmer) and lesser water boatman, which swim on their front (And there are many species).They have hairs around their bottom to help trap air close to the body when they dive underwater.The tiny species of lesser water boatman (Micronecta scholtzi) is one of the loudest animals on Earth for its body size.Water FleaTiny animals of which there can be thousands in a very small amount of water.Not like fleas that cats and dogs get – they’re a type of plant-eating crustacean and feed on algae in the water.Some species undergo a seasonal change where they grow spikes on their tails and a strange helmet structure. Scientists still have no idea why they do it!Water HoglousePart of the recycling service for the pond – hoglice eat waste products that fall to the bottom of the pond, including dead plant matter, dead animals and poo.They breathe with gills which are situated in the back end of the body so they can still breathe while they’re feeding in the mud!Wetlands are essential habitats, playing crucial roles in our environment. They protect our shores from waves, reduce the impacts of floods by soaking up water like a sponge, filtering and purifying it so water quality improves, and they absorb pollutants too.
Winter is the perfect time of the year, to see migrating ducks.
ILLUMINATURE is one of the most romantic spots in the capital
London Wetlands Centre is a place where you can take time out for yourself.
Meet Tod and Honey, our pair of Asian small-clawed otters.
For the first time, Londoners looking for a unique night out will be able to visit London Wetland Centre after dark to enjoy a magical illuminated landscape and experience a totally different perspective on wildlife.
Lisa Woodward talks about ILLUMINATURE, some of the highlights you can look out for and how she hopes the event will inspire a new generation to fall in love and engage with nature.
Experience Nature in a Different Light at London Wetland Centre this autumn
WWT London Wetland Centre uses grazing animals such as sheep and cattle to maintain and increase biodiversity on the reserve.
Spring is a brilliant time of the year when new life begins. It’s the perfect moment for you and your family to get outdoors and be inspired by nature.
As the centre is currently close, we have decided to show you, a bit of what is happening behind the scenes. Get a snapshot of our reserve management work and uncover the fascinating wildlife.